Sunday, January 31, 2021

Tonight's Movie: The Shepherd of the Hills (1941) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

For the past couple of years, one of my viewing goals has been to catch up with all of the 1940s John Wayne films I've not yet seen.  

The list has been surprisingly lengthy, but Kino Lorber releases have helped me check off several titles: SEVEN SINNERS (1940), THE SPOILERS (1942), PITTSBURGH (1942), and DAKOTA (1945).

I've now seen another of Wayne's '40s films thanks to another Kino Lorber release, THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS (1941). 

THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS was a fairly unusual film, based on a novel by Harold Bell Wright.  It's set in a community of backwoods moonshiners, where knowledge of the outside world is limited, ways of speaking are unfamiliar to newcomers, and superstitions persist.

Into this closed-off rural village comes Daniel Howitt (Harry Carey Sr.), who happens to show up at a cabin one day just in time to help Jim Lane (Tom Fadden), who's been shot by the "revenuers" patroling for moonshiners.  

Daniel develops a friendship with Jim and his daughter Sammy (Betty Field), and Sammy helps Daniel navigate among her neighbors, who are suspicious of outsiders.  

Daniel saves the life of a little girl (Virita Campbell), earning the gratitude of her parents (Dorothy Adams and John Qualen) and grandmother (Marjorie Main), but Young Matt Matthews (John Wayne) and his family continue to view the outsider with a wary eye.  That said, Matt's Aunt Mollie (Beulah Bondi) is willing to sell Daniel some land when he offers a thousand dollars -- especially as the land is considered haunted. 

Young Matt has sworn to kill his long-absent father, whom he blames for indirectly causing his mother's death.  Little does Matt know that Daniel might be able to help him resolve that issue.

It's a fairly odd story and setting, but the willing viewer soon settles into the film's rhythm and style.  The cast couldn't be better, and much of the film was shot in Technicolor in the Big Bear area of Southern California, which adds greatly to the film's appeal. 

In addition to being beautifully made, the film has a worthwhile message about love versus hate.  Young Matt, caught between his bitter, angry aunt and the kindly Daniel, must choose which path to follow.  One will result in an unhappy, empty life like his aunt's and the other will end with him having the love of a wife and family.

I doubt Carey ever gave a bad performance; large role or small, he always commands the screen.  

It's wonderful seeing the young Wayne filmed outdoors in such brilliant color, and I was surprisingly impressed with Field's performance.  In the wrong role she's a disaster (I'm particularly thinking of the otherwise excellent THE GREAT GATSBY), but her rather off-kilter persona fits this film perfectly.  She's quite likable as the young woman who cares for both Matt and Daniel.

Marjorie Main has a fine scene as Grandma Becky, whose eyesight is restored thanks to an operation paid for by Daniel.  The deep cast also includes Ward Bond, Samuel S. Hinds, Olin Howland, Fuzzy Knight, James Barton, Marc Lawrence, Henry Brandon, and Selmer Jackson.

THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS was directed by Henry Hathaway.  It was filmed by W. Howard Greene and Charles Lang.  The screenplay of this 98-minute film was by Grover Jones and Stuart Anthony.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray print is gorgeous.  There is one scene towards the end where there are some faint, odd-looking red streaks, but otherwise I thought it was beautiful.  The sound is also excellent; despite most of the characters speaking in a rather convoluted fashion, I had no difficulty understanding anyone.

The Blu-ray includes a commentary track by Simon Abrams, the trailer, and a trailer gallery for half a dozen additional films available from Kino Lorber.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Jerry Entract said...

A lovely and,as you say, Laura, most unusual film. My first viewing was on the big screen, during my 14-year membership of London's National Film Theatre 1969-83. It left a vivid memory on me.

11:34 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much for adding your thoughts, Jerry! I loved hearing about where you first saw it. That membership sounds wonderful.

I hope one day to see a classic film on a big screen in London, just to be able to say I saw one there!

Best wishes,

12:01 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Betty Field was a cute girl and very good actress but not a conventional leading lady, most effective in Of Mice and Mine (1939) Kings Row (1942), often described as Ronald Reagan's best film work, but dominated by Robert Cummings, and Picnic (1955) as Kim Novak's mother.

4:20 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Of the three titles you mention I have only seen KINGS ROW, a long time ago, but I recall her being the right fit for that part.

I have a DVD of THE SOUTHERNER I've been meaning to get to for eons, perhaps I'll like her in that since it's another film with a rural setting.

Best wishes,

4:33 PM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Laura, both "OF MICE AND MEN" and "THE SOUTHERNER" recommended. Zachary Scott also very fine in the latter film.

In London, there was a Cinema Bookshop in Gt. Russell Street (near the British Museum) that I discovered in 1969. We got chatting and the owner told me about an upcoming screening of "RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY" at the National Film Theatre but that you had to be a member to get in. I had not seen RTHC since its initial release 7 years earlier so I joined just for that but over the next 14 years I saw dozens (and dozens) of films. That time built hugely on my love of movies and I made a lot of discoveries and learned so much. Each film was accompanied by an in-depth article about the film.

11:24 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for the recommendations, Jerry!

Your anecdote about the bookshop and the National Film Theatre is so great. It makes me think of how my parents took me to movies at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art when I was young, and we'd get a handout on the film -- at least one, which I still have, was written by our friend Blake Lucas! (It's remarkable thinking Blake and I were at the same movies decades before we knew each other and attended movies together as friends.) Your time of discoveries in London sounds marvelous.

Best wishes,

11:53 PM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, a good write-up of the beautifully photographed THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS(filmed 1940, released 1941). Also, I applaude your viewing goal of seeing all of John Wayne's movies from the 1940's. Some very good entertainment therein and more, in my humble opinion. Many fans prefer his movie output from 1939-47. Too me, the fishing scene, in THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS, sort of implies a "passing of the torch" from the old pro Harry Carey to the new pro John Wayne. Just look at their next movie made together, THE SPOILERS(1942). Wayne was clearly in the forefront in this one.

Too me, the heart, mind, and soul of THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS is the passionate intensity of Betty Field's performance as Sammy Lane. She is spirited, independent, and waxes poetic in her folkloric beliefs. I think this was her best performance and I, along with Jerry Entract, recommend THE SOUTHERNER(filmed 1944, released 1945) and OF MICE AND MEN(1939).

1:31 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you, Walter! I'm delighted to have so much feedback shared not only on the movie but on Betty Field and her films. She really was quite good in this, and as has been mentioned, an atypical leading lady.

Sounds like I need to bump THE SOUTHERNER into my "hot" stack. I've been curious about it due to Zachary Scott, it seems like an unusual role for him.

That fishing scene you mention was lovely.

Best wishes,

6:35 PM  

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